Ben Meyer

Special Topics Correspondent

Ben took the newly-created position of Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR in September of 2019.  He has a specific focus through his grant-funded position: reporting on water and water resources in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  Through his on air and online reporting, Ben explores water as a necessity for life and as an identity for the region.

Prior to joining the WXPR team, Ben spent more than seven years serving in several roles at WJFW-TV in Rhinelander.

Originally from Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, Ben is a graduate of UW-Madison. He lives in Rhinelander with his wife, Erika.  Outside of work, Ben is an avid Brewers and Badgers fan.  He enjoys doing outdoor projects, running, and competing in triathlons.  Ben is also a WIAA basketball official and calls play-by-play for Rhinelander Hodags sports.

School District of Crandon

Voters in the Crandon area will be asked to raise their own taxes to support the school district in next week’s elections.

Until now, Crandon was the only school in the Northern Lakes Conference not to need a referendum to keep operating.

But that’s now changed. 

Crandon already plans to freeze the pay of all staff for the next school year.  But the district needs to do more, said Superintendent Larry Palubicki in a web video for the community.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is calling lawmakers into a rushed special session on Saturday, asking them to stop in-person voting for Tuesday’s election and send an absentee ballot to every registered voter in the state.

It would also allow an additional month and a half for voters to submit ballots and clerks to count votes.

It’s the latest move to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak in the state.

We won’t learn the results of next Tuesday’s races until nearly a week after the election is held.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge William Conley ordered clerks not to release election results until April 13.  That’s the last day they’re able to receive absentee ballots under a court decision made Thursday.

It’s the latest change in the mechanics of the election due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Clerks generally report unofficial results on election nights, and the winners of most races are known within a few hours.

WXPR news brings you these stories Friday:

  • The Vilas County Jail's inmate procedures are much stricter during the COVID-19 outbreak
  • A convicted sex offender reaches a plea deal in Lincoln County
  • The VA medical center in Iron Mountain is offering veterans a way to stay healthy without being seen in person
  • Wisconsin worries whether its broadband reach is adequate as workers, teachers, and students remain at home

In Thursday’s WXPR news:

  • The YMCA of the Northwoods is asking members to keep their membership active to help the organization get through the COVID-19 outbreak
  • The Nicolet College Foundation has options for students in financial need
  • A local business owner is donating enough hand sanitizer to cover all poll workers in Tomahawk
  • Research shows lake levels are a strong indicator of the amount of mercury in fish

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Are the Northwoods walleye you catch safe to eat, or do they have too much mercury?

The answer is tied to several factors, but new research shows a surprising variable might have the biggest effect.

The water level of the lake where you caught the fish could tell you more about its safety than anything else.

The realization of the connection started years ago, when lakes researcher Dr. Carl Watras found an interesting trend.

Wisconsin Elections Commission

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers plans to use the National Guard to help fill the poll worker shortage for next Tuesday’s election.

But more than 100 cities, villages, and towns are still listed as having a “critical” need, as COVID-19 has left thousands of poll workers unwilling to show up.

“Right now, I am short a bare minimum of two poll workers,” said Joan Waino, the Town Clerk of Winchester in Vilas County.  “I’ve been able to wrangle in two from town.”

The state is pleading for volunteers to help with the shortage.

In WXPR news Wednesday afternoon:

  • The City of Rhinelander could face legal issues with its proposed use of the Downtown Works Fund to help local businesses
  • Rep. Rob Swearingen weighs in on how the state might use federal stimulus money
  • Park City Credit Union donates to local food pantries
  • Wausau residents can take a growler to bars to fill them with their favorite beers

Rennes Group

A male resident at Rennes Health and Rehab in Rhinelander is one of the people who tested positive for COVID-19 in Oneida County.

The test was administered on Friday and Rennes was notified of the result on Sunday.

"The facility has been in contact with the resident's family and the Oneida County Public Health Department," said Vikki Baumler, the Digital Media Manager for The Rennes Group. "We continue to follow the recommendations of the Oneida County Public Health Department, the CDC, and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services."

In WXPR news today:

  • Clerks say "it is not doable" to send absentee ballots to all registered voters
  • A Wausau nursing home worker has tested positive for COVID-19
  • Rhinelander City Administrator Daniel Guild will remain on paid leave
  • Gov. Tony Evers asks companies and schools to donate or sell unused protective equipment

Ben Meyer/WXPR

It’s already been a hectic leadup to next Tuesday’s election for Oneida County Clerk Tracy Hartman.

In April 2016, the last election with a Supreme Court race and presidential primary, 1,400 voters in Oneida County requested absentee ballots.

This year’s number is about three times that.

“It’s a challenge,” Hartman said Monday.  “It has become overwhelming.”

Then, last Friday, a message from Madison overwhelmed Hartman even more.

In WXPR news today:

  • Oneida County now has "community spread" of COVID-19 after two more cases were identified
  • A program in the Northland Pines area is ensuring kids get food on the weekends
  • Manufacturers in the Northwoods need to flex their business operations during the virus outbreak
  • The Wisconsin arts economy is getting creative to weather COVID-19 challenges

Superior Diesel

Manufacturers in the Northwoods don’t foresee going back to “business as usual” any time soon.

Most are exempt from having to close under Wisconsin’s stay-at-home order, but their operations have had to change significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At Superior Diesel in Rhinelander, production staff now fan out across the facility to keep a safe distance from each other.  The engine production company has also staggered shifts to keep as few people together in the plant as possible.

CDC

A person in their 60s and another in their 80s in Oneida County have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the Oneida County Health Department announced Sunday.

That brings the number of positive cases in the county to three.

“It is reasonable to believe that there is now community spread of the virus in Oneida County,” the health department said in a statement.

The two new individuals with COVID-19 are unrelated to each other and unrelated to the first person in Oneida County with the virus, a person in their 20s whose diagnosis was announced Friday.

Carmen Farwell

Water-pumping plans of Trig Solberg and the Carlin Club have been rejected yet again.

Solberg, the owner of Trig’s supermarkets, wants to pump water for bottling from near a remote lake in Presque Isle.

But in a hearing on Friday, Vilas County Circuit Court Judge Neal Nielsen let stand a Vilas County Board of Adjustment decision which rejected the plan.

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